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Paul Krassner

Paul: I think that’s because we share an experience which most people say is their biggest fear–public speaking. I’ll tell you about a great moment that I had recently where I experienced this camaraderie. It was when George Carlin got the Uppie (for muckraker Upton

Siclair) Award. This was at a benefit for the ACLU in San Pedro, at the Warner Grand theater, which is like an old vaudeville house. It held maybe fifteen hundred people. They wanted me to do a twenty minute set, and then introduce Carlin. I told the guy, look, I’ll do the set, but you introduce him–because you’re from the ACLU, and that’s who’s really presenting the award to him. 

So I went on, did my twenty minute set right before Carlin, and it was good. When I got backstage Carlin was standing there waiting for me. He grabs me by the arm and says, “great set”. I said, “thanks”. He says, “how are they?” I said, “you mean the audience?” And he says, “yeah”. I said, “well, they’re very receptive. You’ll like it”. He says,” no, I mean, can you hear them?” And I said, “oh yeah, yeah. The laughter comes at you like an ocean wave”. There are waves of laughter, and you can surf on them. Every comedian shares that feeling of hearing the laughter, and being orchestrated by it. So that was a nice moment between two performers.

David: How has your experience with psychedelics influenced your satirical writings, your comedy, and your perspective on life?

Paul: On some levels it’s impossible to know. On other levels, there are concepts that I probably wouldn’t have gotten without them–like saying that what really gets you high is the glue that’s on the rolling paper, not the pot inside the joint. I don’t think I would have come up with that concept, among many others, if I hadn’t been high. I wouldn’t have a lot of the stuff I’ve done on stage, which is just talking about experiences like taking acid at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. Obviously I couldn’t write about those things, or talk about them, if I hadn’t done them. It would never have occurred to me to have those kind of stories. 

But also, it’s the process. I mean, sometimes it’s impossible to know. If an idea comes to me, and I’m stoned, how do I know whether I would have gotten that same idea if I were not stoned? Or vice versa even? So I just surrender to the process. But I know that being stoned seems to help me make connections, and to extrapolate on notions. There’s a lot of comics who get ideas when they’re stoned, and will then put those ideas into the material when they write something. Whereas, say George Carlin has said that he will work on, work on, work on on something, and then smoke some pot to help him fine tune it. Then there are people who will perform when they’re stoned. So there’s all different levels of the relationship.

David: Robert Anton Wilson told me that when he edits his writing, he often alternates between being stoned and straight.

Paul: Oh right. Yeah, because sometimes, let’s face it, you get an idea when you’re stoned, and you look at it when you’re not stoned, and you realize that it may not be such a great insight after all–like about the importance of flushing the toilet as an exercise in responsibility, for example.

David: What was it like to accompany Groucho Marx on his first acid trip?

Paul: It was enlightening and enjoyable–just in the sense of seeing him as himself, not as his character. This happened at the home of an actress who lived in Beverly Hills, who was not there at the time, and she had a large collection of classical records and Broadway musicals. One of them was Fanny, and there was a song on the album called “Welcome Home”. And the song went, “Welcome home,” says the chair. “Welcome home,” says the clock. All these various pieces of furniture in the house say “welcome home” in the song. And Groucho was sort of following the lyrics of that, with his exaggerated Groucho walk, saying “welcome home to the chair”, and just acting out the lyrics–as though he actually was being greeted by the clock, the chair, and the rest of the furniture.

We talked about his favorite contestant on “You Bet Your Life”. He said it was an elderly gentleman with white hair who was very chipper in mood. When Groucho asked him what he did to retain his sunny disposition, the contestant said, “Every morning I get up and I make a choiceto be happy that day. I know that I have the choice of whether or not to be happy.” Then at one point Groucho went to urinate, and when he came out he started talking about how the human body is a miracle. He said, “You know, everybody is waiting for miracles to happen, but the whole human body is a Goddamn miracle.” 
We spoke about humor. At one point Groucho said that “everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy. A miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out–he says, ‘Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.’ And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy–’Oh, Ollie, I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry, I did the best I could…” 

We had been talking about The Realist slogan–“irreverence is our sacred cow”–and he said that reverence and irreverence weren’t separate things. He said that you could be irreverent about the things that you felt a reverence for, because reverence and irreverence were the same thing.  There’s a quote saying, essentially, that you can make fun of the the things that you love without loving them any the less. And that’s how I interpreted Groucho saying that irreverence and reverence were the same thing.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Paul: Oh, I think it dies with your physical body. That’s my belief, and it’s a pretty basic belief. It’s like a Philip Wiley story, where an angel falls down from the sky, in front of this Air Force major, and he has to change his philosophy. So if I believed that that my consciousness survived after my physical body died, I would have to change my philosophy.

David: What is your perspective on the concept of God?

Paul: One of the few things I remember from my entire higher education was a sociology professor saying that if horses had a deity it would look like a horse. Your question is one that I deal with all the time because there is so much use of the word God, and I always wonder what people visualize when they pray, because God is such an inconceivable concept to me. I think that’s why they have figures like Jesus, because then, at least, they can visualize something that they can relate to.

So I think that whatever concept of God that people have will work for them. I had a Donald Duck with eight arms–which was called either “Donald Sutra” or “Shiva Duck”–and this was my visual mantra. In other words, I feel that if the universe is infinite, then the number of paths to connect with the universe is also infinite. So the concept of God is inconceivable for me. An all-powerful, conscious being is inconceivable–and congratulations to those who can conceive of that. I’ll stick with evolution, and even that’s pretty hard to conceive of.

David: Do you see evolution as being a completely blind-chance process, or do you ever entertain the idea that there could be some type of intelligence or design built into the evolutionary process?

Paul: I think of it as cosmic accident, and coincidence of various forces. And for the same reason–because it’s impossible for me to conceive of an intelligence that could make such a design. I finally came to the conclusion that God is evolution. That concept first came to me when we were on that little vacation in Florida. We went to the Sea Aquarium on acid, and I was having this nonverbal relationship with a dolphin. I remember I asked the dolphin, “why are you always smirking?” And the dolphin said (and I willingly concede that this was a projection on my part), “If God is evolution, then how do you know he’s finished?” 

Then I even made a joke to myself–which was that the dolphin was a actually a sexist pig, or he would not have given me the male pronoun for God. So I told this to dolphin expert John Lilly when I took a workshop with him, and Lilly just changed one word, like he was correcting a term paper or something. He said, “No. If God is evolution, then how do you know you’re finished?” And that was an epiphany, because that was the moment that I remember thinking, oh yeah, okay, it’s my responsibility now to evolve–and I appreciated the concept of conscious evolution.

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